Jan 28, 2024

Apple WWDC: M2 Ultra chip displaces the last Intel holdout • The Register

WWDC Apple didn't just introduce the costly Vision Pro VR headset at its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday. It also found time to talk up its latest hardware refresh and pending software updates.

The workstation-grade Mac Pro retained its infamous "cheese grater" case, but will no longer have an Intel Xeon processor inside – its replacement is Apple's own M2 Ultra. The machine starts at $6,999 for a tower or $7,499 for a rack-mountable chassis, packing a 24-core CPU, a 60-core or 72-core GPU, 64GB to 192GB of unified memory at 800GB/sec bandwidth, and between 1TB and 8TB of SSD storage.

The major selling point of the Mac Pro is PCIe expansion slots – a handy feature given that people doing high-end digital work rely on their expansion cards. The box accommodates seven PCle expansion slots, six of which support the speedier gen-4 PCIe spec.

Many other ports are present. Eight built-in Thunderbolt 4 ports – twice as many as were previously available – await high-end Macphiles. There are also three USB-A ports, and two higher-bandwidth HDMI ports capable of supporting monitors with up to 8K resolution at frame rates of up to 240Hz. But wait, there's more: two 10Gb/sec Ethernet ports and a headphone jack specced for high-impedance kit.

The inclusion of a Apple chip in the Mac Pro completes the Apple Silicon transition that began in late 2020. None of Apple's latest kit includes Intel chips.

Apple's headless desktop, the Mac Studio, was refreshed to include either an M2 Max or an M2 Ultra processor.

Buyers of the M2 Max machine will lay out $1,999 to acquire a 12-Core CPU, 30-Core GPU, 16-Core Neural Engine machine with 32GB of memory and 512GB SSD. A Mac Studio packing an M2 Ultra costs $3,999, for which you get a 24-Core CPU, 60-Core GPU, 32-Core Neural Engine with 64GB memory and 1TB SSD.

The M2 Ultra was made by connecting two M2 Max dies using a packaging technology that Apple calls UltraFusion. Using a silicon interposer that provides low-latency bandwidth of 2.5TB/sec, UltraFusion connects more than 10,000 signals across the dies – making the two chips work as one without any code revision.

Apple also revealed a 15-inch MacBook Air, running on an M2 chip and promising to offer up to 18 hours of battery life. Its 15.3-inch Liquid Retina Display delivers 500 nits of brightness and is said to be twice the resolution and 25 percent brighter than "a comparable PC laptop" – presumably some 15-inch Intel Core i7 PC laptop that Apple does not identify.

The sporty MacBook Air weighs 3.3 pounds and is said to be 40 percent thinner and half a pound lighter than the unidentified "comparable PC laptop."

The M2 within MacBook Air sports eight cores – four tuned for performance and four for efficiency – a 10-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. The laptop offers 100GB/sec of memory bandwidth and supports up to 24GB of memory.

The 15-inch MacBook Air includes MagSafe charging, two Thunderbolt ports, a seemingly ancient 3.5mm headphone jack (which some of us still love), and comes in four colors: midnight (aka black), starlight (aka gold-ish), space gray (aka gray), and silver (which is self-explanatory). It'll be available on June 15, 2023, for $1,299 or $1,199 for buyers in the education sector.

In its extended infomercial, Apple also named the forthcoming macOS version 14 Sonoma – a nod to California's Sonoma Valley, home to numerous wineries.

The desktop operating system update brings various improvements, including: better Widgets, which can now be affixed to the desktop and are more interactive; better video conferencing through features like Presenter Overlay, Reactions, and a simplified Screen Sharing picker; and video screensavers that integrate with desktop graphics.

The most significant change appears to be Apple's recognition of web apps as worthy of a desktop presence – a feature available in macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.

"Now people can add your website to their Dock on Mac or to their Home Screen in iOS and iPadOS for easy access," Apple explains in its developer documentation. "On Mac, any website added to the Dock becomes a web app, with an app-like appearance and system integration similar to other apps. Create a web app manifest to communicate your website's intended behavior for web app-related features in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS."

The devil is in the details, however, and Apple hasn't yet provided specifics about whether the required web app manifest is presently Safari-dependant or whether it works with the user's default browser. A session delving into the new web app accommodations is planned for Tuesday, June 6.

Safari's Private Browsing – distinct from normal, not-so-private browsing – is getting some love. In addition to a screen lock, Private Browsing will prevent known tracker scripts from loading and will remove URL-based tracking parameters.

This feature presumably is similar to the parameter stripping implemented in Brave and Firefox, which Meta responded to by merging tracking parameters into the URL itself – thereby preserving its data collection capability.

Apple says it will also remove tracking parameters from links shared with Messages and Mail. Meanwhile, Cupertino's Privacy Nutrition Labels should soon support signatures for third-party SDKs as a form of software supply chain integrity protection.

Communication Safety will receive a new API that lets developers integrate nudity detection similar to protection now offered across AirDrop, Contact Posters in the Phone app, FaceTime video, the Photos picker menu, and Messages. This is done on-device and can be disabled in Family Accounts by parents. There's also a Sensitive Content Warning intended for adults that's available in Privacy & Security settings.

In iOS 17, the Phone app is getting personalized Contact Posters – a way to present callers with your own contact page imagery. Third-party apps can also integrate this data. Live Voicemail lets users see voicemail messages transcribed in real-time – on-device, thanks to efficient machine learning code and Neural Engine hardware – in order to determine whether they want to listen to a message.

FaceTime, initially for real-time comms, is adding support for audio and video messages. The service also gains "Reactions" – animated overlaid effects that will also be available in video conferencing apps.

Messages has been enhanced with Live Stickers, which expand upon the possibilities of Memoji and emoji. These can be created by dragging images into the Messages app, with machine learning dutifully pulling the object from its background.

Another new capability is called "Check In" and offers iPhone users a way to notify friends and family of their arrival at a destination and to automatically send updates if there's a delay. Info sent includes the device's location, battery level, and cell service status – all end-to-end encrypted, it's claimed.

AirDrop, Apple's cross-device file sharing scheme, has been improved with a capability called NameDrop. It allows contact cards to be shared simply by bringing devices together and approving the transfer. This sharing gesture can also be used to enable SharePlay, so two adjacent devices can show the same movie or play the same song.

Other operating system additions include: StandBy, a sort of kiosk-clock radio mode for iPhones turned horizontal; a Journal app that encourages users to spend even more time staring at their phones and promises privacy for jotted intimacies; offline Maps; the ability to share AirTag tracker locations; and Siri being invoked with just the word "Siri" – no more "Hey" required – and subsequent invocations can be done without any further activation commands.

iPadOS 17 is getting much of what is planned for iOS 17. It also brings a redesigned Lock Screen, Widget improvements similar to macOS, and improved PDF handling. Plus, the Health app is coming to iPadOS.

The watchOS 10 update brings a significant interface revision in the form of Smart Stacks – a way to view Apple Watch apps using a stack-based interface that scrolls back and forth via the Digital Crown knob. There are also new watch faces, new cycling and biking features, and tools that supposedly support mental health.

Finally, tvOS 17 will work with iPhones and iPads, letting users initiate FaceTime calls via Apple TV or other iDevices via Continuity Camera. Later this year, Webex and Zoom will be available on tvOS.

A feature called Apple Music Sing will let tvOS users sing on-screen lyrics while seeing themselves projected on-screen. Control Center has been redesigned, and Apple is adding support for third-party VPN apps, which should make Apple TV content easier to use in enterprise and classroom settings.

Beta versions of Apple's planned operating system updates are now available through Apple's beta program for developers, with a public beta planned next month. General availability is planned for the northern Autumn. ®

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